Volume 81, Number 6

December 2006

The Civil Commitment of State-Dependent Minors: Resonating Discourses That Leave Her Heterosexuality and His Homosexuality Vulnerable to Scrutiny

Maribel Morey

When qualified mental health evaluators’ recommendations for the involuntary civil commitment of state-dependent minors complement a state’s judicially recognized interests in promoting heterosexual behavior among state-dependent minors while controlling state-dependent girls’ heightened heterosexual behaviors, the courts are unlikely to serve as watchdogs of mental health evaluators’ vast discretionary powers. The contemporary resonance between the courts’ and the mental health community’s discourses on adolescent sex facilitates the civil commitment of state-dependent heterosexual girls and nonheterosexual boys, solely on the basis of their sexual behaviors. This powerful resonance threatens the personal autonomy of healthy state-dependent heterosexual girls and nonheterosexual boys. In light of this threat, Morey proposes that before qualified evaluators can recommend adolescent wards of the state to psychiatric hospitals for sexualized behaviors, they should be required to express in writing how the adolescent’s behavior is a direct symptom of an emotional disturbance from past sexual abuse. Otherwise, qualified evaluators’ ability to rely on gender-based stereotypes of what constitutes appropriate or risky sexual behavior among state-dependent minors will remain largely unchecked.